The fantastic origins of your favorite games

Back when Rare – GoldenEye, Conker’s Bad Fur Day – was on top of the world in the N64 days, they developed Banjo-Kazooie (and its sequel, Banjo-Tooie). The charming platformer about a bear and his irritating, yet lovable bird friend expanded upon Mario 64’s 3D gameplay and had all sorts of collectable gidgets. Now available on XBLA in high-res glory for 1200 MS points.

Above: Who the hell is that? That ain’t a bear

Would you believe that Banjo once started life on the SNES… about a rather normal human boy… named Edison? A Banjo retrospective in Retro Gamer indicates that the adventure game, Project Dream, was in active development for the SNES directly after work was completed on Donkey Kong Country 2. The original story had Edison as a boy adventurer getting tangled up with evil pirates, led by Captain Blackeye. That actually doesn’t sound like a bad premise, considering the track record Rare was beginning to lay.

Above: Cool – early concept art! But he’s not wearing pants

As soon as the N64 was introduced, development shifted towards the newer platform with few pains. Development continued on Project Dream for another year, but by that time the scope had changed so much that release was still years off. Oh, and Edison became a bear with a backpack, y’know, to keep all his adventuring items in. Now that Dream was so different, the visual scope shifted as well. It was then that work began in ernest on the new game, Banjo.

Above: Final hi-res work

One area of gameplay design that Banjo excelled in over Mario 64 was an expanded move set – egg shooting, butt slams and double jumping. Well, double jumping was thought of, but Rare had no idea to make a bear look reasonably able to jump once more at the height of the first jump. So, they added wings that come out of his backpack for the added oomph. They wanted Banjo to run quickly, so Rare added legs that sprouted from the backpack for running. Pretty soon, it was decided to have a whole bird living in that backpack.

Above: Ahyuck!

But what to name the bird? During the hoedown opening, every character gets in instrument. Banjo gets a banjo, Mumbo Jumbo gets a number of instruments, and the bird gets the incredibly irritating kazoo. From that you can derive how Kazooie’s name was picked.

Ken Levine’s incredible story of a plane crash victim seeking refuge in an underwater anti-utopian world is inspired by the works of George Orwell and Ayn Rand. With older weapons and magic powers in tow, you’ll slowly traverse the haunted, decrepit society filled with wayward souls and protective behemoth Big Daddies while navigating a power struggle between the city’s founder and upstart anarchist.

Above: Early concept work of an underground bunker

BioShock’s inventive story about dueling idealists and the utopian city that realistically crumples wasn’t always completely figured out. In fact, Ken Levine had a number of elements he wanted to convey in a game, which ended up changing over time. The trifecta of dominant character AI featured in the game however was developed the earliest.

Above: Early looks at the Big Daddy

In an interview onRock Paper Shotgun, Ken Levine states, “The notion of the simulated environment and the three interacting AI types – the aggressor type, the resource gathering type, and the protector type – that came from watching nature shows.” The ideas of the Splicer, the Big Daddy and the Little Sister already existed, however weren’t fully developed. In fact, the Little Sister used to be a sea slug early on.

Above: The Little Sister used to look even worse. A gopher? A robot? What the hell?

“The game went through a fair amount of changes. Never the core design principles, but the aesthetic and story evolved over time,” Levine said in the interview. In an interview withShacknews, two earlier concepts Levine had toyed with came to light. One idea had the story taking place on an island stronghold with Nazis. Another rejected BioShock story was where you assumed the role of a cult deprogrammer – hired by a Senator no less – where you needed to rescue someone from a cult. Hell, in a 2004 preview withGamespot, BioShock originally took place in a recently unearthed, underground genetics facility held over from WWII.

Above: Before Splicers, there was BLURRGGHHH

Levine is even inspired by movies. Political thriller Syriana inspired how Fontaine’s character created a charity for the poor denizens of Rapture, just so he could use them for his civil war-like goals. And Levine was always opposed to the two different endings from the starts. Says that was a decision from higher up the food chain.